Durban - More than 1 100 trucks have been hijacked in South Africa so far this year – way ahead of last year – and the rush to get goods to stores before the festive season peaks has the industry worried that more freight will be targeted.
According to the Road Freight Association, losses ranging from R1 million all the way up to R7m per incident meant truck hijackings were costing companies and insurers more than R1 billion a year.
“We have seen an increase in the hijacking of trucks carrying food items – large amounts of consignments that are very difficult to move,” the spokesman for the association, Gavin Kelly, told the Daily News on Thursday.
He said the number of the hijackings this year was over 1 100, hundreds more than those recorded by the SAPS in its latest one-year crime statistics reporting period.
The volume of goods stolen showed how well organised the syndicates responsible for these crimes were, Kelly said.
“If you steal a petrol tanker, you can’t just pour it in a bucket – there are other industries involved; it’s not just the criminal on the street.”
Kelly said the association had noticed an increase in truck hijackings during hard economic times, starting in 2008.
This was supported by police crimes statistics which revealed that truck hijackings had increased from 892 in the 2006/7 year to 1 245 in 2007/8.
This number had increased over the next two years until a decline in 2010/11.
The crime statistics show that there were 821 truck hijackings in 2011/12 – the lowest number reported since 2004. However, there has been a steady increase since.
Kelly said more than 75 percent involved collusion between the truck driver, loaders at the port or schedulers. This was evident as hijackers knew the routes, times and exactly what to look for in trucks.
On Monday, computers worth millions of rand were stolen from a truck hijacked on the N3 between Warden and Villiers. The truck was found later that day on the R547 between Kriel and Bethal in Mpumalanga.
A R5m McLaren supercar also being transported was, however, untouched.
According to Stan Bezuidenhout, a forensic collision/homicide reconstructionist and co-owner of IBF Investigations, this was not surprising as syndicates stole on order.
He said from the intelligence they had gathered over the years, most hijackings were highly organised and co-ordinated by syndicates, operating over a large area.
“If an order comes in for a specific truck, trailer or cargo item, we see those being stolen around the country in a period of a week or so.
“The co-ordinated effort shows just how organised the syndicates are and these (hijacked freight) typically go out of the country,” he said.
“From Durban, these typically go to Mozambique. Most of the time its content like tobacco they take, and abandon the truck – it is worthless to them because that’s not what their order is for.”
Bezuidenhout said in some instances, the hijackers were so skilled and trained he believed they were former military and police officers.
“These guys are experienced and sophisticated. They usually have back-up vehicles following them and have connections in law enforcement. They are cool and calm and tell the driver this is not worth their life; they are nice to him because they understand that he is less likely to do anything to jeopardise the mission.”
He said he was very concerned by the teaching of hijacking prevention methods, which he believed left drivers even more vulnerable on the road.
“When you are hijacked, obviously you will choose to safeguard your life (rather) than the truck, but what concerns me is that we are teaching people how to be good victims and criminals know that. It makes drivers easy targets.”
On the other hand, Bezuidenhout noted that there was another, more violent, category of truck hijacker.
“These guys are violent; they throw people out of moving trucks and shoot back at police.”
He said the stakes for this type of hijacker were usually higher and tied to the value of the loot.
“That’s why it’s so difficult to respond to truck hijackings, because there is such a different array and they communicate with each other.”
As an investigator, he was on call 24 hours a day to respond to truck hijackings. He was generally hired by the freight company to which the hijacked truck belongs, or the insurance company.